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Should potential alcoholics go to AA?

The Potential Alcoholic

The term potential alcoholic, also known as a social alcoholic, or “almost alcoholic,” can be applied to a large number of people. Potential alcoholics are not typical alcoholics; instead, their drinking habits can range from barely qualifying as almost alcoholics to those whose drinking borders actual alcoholism.

Typically, the potential alcoholic starts out with normal drinking patterns but then moves into the social alcoholic zone of the spectrum, drinking more and more heavily. A potential alcoholic drinks to relieve stress, may drink alone, looks forward to drinking, may have drinking related health problems, drinks to relieve boredom or loneliness, takes risks like drunk driving , drinks to get a “buzz,” isn’t comfortable in social settings without drinking, and finds that drinking helps to overcome their shyness.

Some people question whether potential alcoholics should go to AA. There are two sides to this debate.

AA Membership

First of all, membership is afforded to anyone who has a desire to stop drinking. This means that you don’t even have to be a full-blown alcoholic to attend AA meetings. As long as you don’t want to drink alcohol, you are welcome in AA.

Potential alcoholics who do identify drinking as a problem (not all do) can certainly find help in AA. However, if they attend AA and do not see that alcohol is their problem, such as people who are court-ordered to attend meetings after a DUI, could detract from the structure of the meeting.

Experience ≠ War Story

Meetings are a venue for people to share their experience, strength, and hope – the experience part is kind of like the qualifier that you “earned” your seat in AA but it doesn’t mean you have to tell your war stories. In fact, in my understanding of AA meetings, it is somewhat discouraged to go into too much detail about your past for fear of “spreading sickness” especially to the newcomer or those who are just coming back.

Some may also argue that the story they hope to hear in an AA meeting is the foundation of the program, and imply that such stories need to be juicy enough to qualify someone as a true alcoholic. I understand this argument but disagree with the point being made. Time after time, I hear people say that they always hear exactly what they needed to hear when in a meeting. What they mean by this is that it doesn’t matter the specific details of what they heard but, the overall message.

All About the “Ism”

Being an alcoholic (or addict) is not about the substances we used; it’s about the “ism” that we had long before alcohol came into the picture. It’s about the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs we had that eventually brought us to the drink and kept us drinking.

Many people hold the idea that full-blown alcoholics end up gnarled and toothless, or living under a bridge. The truth is that the face of alcoholism isn’t what many people think it looks like; there are many alcoholics who are what is known as High Functioning Alcoholics (HFAs) – people who can hold down a job and family, or even are quite successful, all while alcohol destroys them on the inside.

The flip side of this is that the potential alcoholic often does not see the consequences they have faced as part of a larger problem: alcoholism. Often times, potential alcoholics are identified by health care providers such as doctors and therapists because they are seeking treatment for secondary issues such as physical health problems or psychological reasons such as depression.

Junkies in AA

Lastly, I can look to my own experience when weighing in on this subject. I attend AA even though I wasn’t a drinker. I have what I call an extreme case of the alcohol allergy; I actually cannot stand the taste or even the smell of alcohol. In fact, although I just celebrated one year clean, I had not had a drink in probably 4 years. And, I know a lot of others who have found recovery in AA even though their DOC was heroin, crack, or meth. I feel completely at home in AA because I can say that I do not have a desire to drink. And that’s the truth. So, in AA I will stay.

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